James & Lucretia Garfield’s Love Story

What began as a marriage in November 1858 “based on the cold stern word duty,” turned into a 19th century love story.

James Garfield and Lucretia Rudolph probably should have never married.  They were of very different upbringings ~ and temperament.

Born in a log cabin in November 1831, James was the baby of the family, the youngest of the Garfield children, the one who was doted upon.  He was precocious and busy as a toddler.  His mother sang to him, held him on her lap and hugged him, and told him that he would grow up to be someone special.  He grew to be charming, with a good sense of humor, and loved to be the center of attention!

younggarfield1848

James Abram Garfield in 1848, the year he turned seventeen.  He got along well with nearly everyone, had an outgoing personality, and enjoyed being the center of attention everywhere he went.  (Western Reserve Historical Society)

Lucretia was born five months later, the eldest of the four Rudolph children.  She had chores and responsibilities ~ and was taught the virtue of “self-government” by her mother.  Neither of her parents openly showed much affection; she didn’t ever remember being kissed by her father.  Despite growing up in this rather serious household, she knew she was loved.  However, her nature was more quiet, shy, reserved, and some thought, “cold.”  She could express her thoughts and desires to her diary or in letters, but struggled with showing her emotions in person.

The two crossed paths in school.  Both families emphasized the importance of education and sent their adolescent James and Lucretia off to the Geauga Seminary in Chester Township, OH.  It was a co-educational (high) school where they both received the same classical courses ~ and lived away from home for the first time.  Lucretia roomed with other girls on the third floor of the school.  James found lodging with other boarders nearby.  They were just classmates, but Lucretia noticed the tall, blue-eyed, “strange genius” who had the look of “an overgrown, uncombed, unwashed, boy.”  They both had other love interests.

lucretia-and-siblings

Lucretia Rudolph (right) with her siblings.  She had a very different upbringing than her future husband and was much quieter and more reserved.  (Western Reserve Historical Society)

Fate brought them together a second time: in the fall of 1851 at the Western Reserve Eclectic Institute in Hiram, OH.  This co-educational college, started by Lucretia’s father and other elders of their Disciples of Christ Church, is where their interest in one another grew.  Their Greek teacher became ill and James, far ahead of the other students, was asked to take over the class.  He began to notice the petite, delicate, pretty girl with the dark, deep-set eyes.  They both had intelligent, curious minds and loved learning, literature, and reading.

Their courtship officially began when James sent Lucretia the first of what would become 1,200 letters the two shared during their relationship.  He visited Niagara Falls in 1853 and wanted to convey his impressions to Miss Rudolph.  They shared their first kiss in 1854.  The courtship endured many ups and downs due to their very different personalities and expectations.  James wasn’t sure that Lucretia was the right woman for him, that she was passionate enough for his nature.

jaglrgclassatwrei

Lucretia Rudolph and James Garfield (right side in front row) in a Greek class photo at the Western Reserve Eclectic Institute in 1853.  (Western Reserve Historical Society)

They finally decided to “try a life in union” during a buggy ride in the spring of 1858 and married on November 11 at the Rudolph home in Hiram.  At her family’s suggestion, the bride even sent an invitation to her groom (to be sure that he showed up)!  The newlyweds didn’t have enough money for a honeymoon or their own house, and instead moved into a rooming house near the Hiram college.  They always had someone living with them.

Separations soon put a strain on their marriage.  Due to his many jobs and duties, James was away from home for long absences ~ but also wanted to be away.  He wasn’t yet truly prepared to be a husband and father.  Even the birth of their first child in 1860 didn’t keep her restless, somewhat selfish, father home.  James and Lucretia called these the “Dark Years.”  During their first five years of marriage, they were only together 20 weeks.

Lucretia was trying to be “the best little wife and mother she could be,” but she admitted that her reserved personality was also to blame for their grim situation.  She showed her diary to James and he read about her true emotions for him.  They needed each other – they made each other better.

engagementphotoclear

James Garfield and Lucretia Rudolph around the time of their engagement.  They married on November 11, 1858.  (Western Reserve Historical Society)

Many factors contributed to them drawing closer together: the importance of family brought home to James during the Civil War, the birth and loss of children, a regrettable affair for which James sought Lucretia’s forgiveness and guidance, a Grand Tour together, their mutual interests, their strong religious faith.  His political career allowed them to spend more time together as a family during sessions of Congress when he moved them all to Washington with him.  He became a “family man.”

family-loc-1

James and Lucretia Garfield’s marriage produced seven children.  Their firstborn, daughter Eliza, and last born, son Edward, both died in childhood.  Their other five children-sons Harry, James R. Irvin, and Abram; and daughter Mollie-all survived to adulthood.  James’s mother, Eliza (see at far right in this image) lived with the family for many years as well, including during their tragically brief stay in the White House.  (Library of Congress)

Lucretia noted that “the forces drawing the two of us together were stronger than the differences pulling us apart.”  When President James Garfield died in 1881, the two were close to celebrating their 23rd wedding anniversary.  They were an established married couple who spent much time together as their children were growing up.  They were supportive partners ~ Lucretia was her husband’s most important political confidant and fierce ally.  They wrote about their loneliness for one another when apart ~ and of a new-found devotion to one another.

James to Lucretia – December 1867:

“We no longer love because we ought to, but because we do.  Were I free to choose out of all the world the sharer of my heart and home and life, I would fly to you and ask you to be mine as you are.”

Lucretia to James – September 1870:

“…I stopped amazed to find myself sitting by our fireside, the loved and loving wife, …lifted up from the confusions and out from the entanglements…I felt that we are not living on the same plain [sic] as heretofore, that we are scarcely the same beings, but like conquering sovereigns we live in high isolation, wedded in heart and soul and life.” 

lucretiawith5children1911

Lucretia Rudolph Garfield (second from right) poses with her five surviving children in 1911, thirty years after her husband’s tragic death.  From left to right: Irvin Garfield; Mollie Garfield Stanley-Brown; Abram Garfield; Lucretia Rudolph Garfield; James R. Garfield; and Harry Garfield.  (Western Reserve Historical Society)

 

Postscript: “Dearest Crete” kept the letters from her “Darling Jamie” and shared them with her adult children to show the progression of the Garfields’ marriage.  She wanted them to understand the metamorphosis of the relationship and depth of their love.

-Debbie Weinkamer, Lead Volunteer

“The Vanishing First Lady”-or Am I?

First Lady Lucretia Garfield lived for 36 years after her husband, President James A. Garfield, was assassinated in 1881 by Charles Guiteau.  During that time, she became a beloved figure in America, though she shunned publicity.  She created the first Presidential Memorial Library and became the matriarch of a large, close-knit and affectionate family.  Debbie Weinkamer, who portrays Lucretia, is a Garfield researcher, first-person living historian, and the Lead Volunteer at James A. Garfield National Historic Site in Mentor, Ohio.  Here she presents how Lucretia would speak for herself in answering the critics if she had the chance.  Not always self-assured, except in the company of friends and family, nevertheless, Lucretia had always met adversity head on, facing her responsibilities. 

I appreciate this opportunity to write to you in order to clear up some misconceptions about me.  Many of you have not heard much about me since my husband’s assassination and death in 1881.  Even the newspapers have called me the “Vanishing First Lady” and “Discreet Crete.”  I must admit: I have ducked all publicity, for I feel that in no way am I personally famous.  The name I bear is honored and honorable, but I am just an ordinary woman devoted to her husband and children.

lucretia-1881

Mrs. Lucretia Garfield, ca. 1881.  (Library of Congress)

I did enjoy my husband’s rise to prominence in politics, contrary to many historians’ opinions of me.  At the beginning of his political career, I wrote to him that, “I feel so much anxiety for you that your public career be never marked by the blight of a misdirected step.  I want you to be great and good.”  I was one of his most-trusted confidants and advisors.  I didn’t expect him to be nominated for President in the political climate of 1876-1880, but thought that his time would eventually come.  However, after he received the “dark horse” nomination at the 1880 Republican Convention in Chicago, I wanted him to win the election – even though I knew that it would bring political difficulties to my husband and a terrible responsibility to our entire family.

My quiet, shy nature made me very reluctant to take over the social duties of First Lady, even though I had been a Congressman’s wife for 17 years and had lived in Washington with my husband and family during sessions of Congress since 1869.  However, I was very fortunate to receive the good advice and assistance of my friend Harriet Blaine, wife of my husband’s Secretary of State and “an experienced Washington grande dame.”  I came to rely on her fine judgment regarding many etiquette matters, including how to establish my calling hours at the Executive Mansion, and effective ways to handle newspaper correspondents and petty criticisms.

Engagement pic cropped

A young James Garfield and Lucretia Rudolph around the time of their engagement.  They married on November 11, 1858.  (Western Reserve Historical Society)

(Here, I must pause to reveal some interesting correspondence regarding the Blaines…In April 1875, I received a letter from my husband concerning a rumor that when James Blaine was getting married to Harriet, the couple’s “warm blood led them to anticipate the nuptial ceremony,” and their first child was born about six months after their marriage.  My husband asked, would this fact “have weight with the people in the Presidential Campaign?” [Mr. Blaine was being considered by some for the presidency.]  

I replied, “It was a queer piece of gossip you gave me of Mr. Blaine.  I scarcely believe it.  But if it is true, it ought not to affect the voters very much unless it would have been considered more honorable by the majority to have abandoned the woman—seduced.  My opinion of Mr. Blaine would be rather heightened than otherwise by the truth of such a story: for it would show him not entirely selfish and heartless.”)

During his brief presidency, my husband paid me the best compliments a political wife can receive: that I was discreet and wise, that my “role as his partner in the presidential enterprise was essential to him,” and that I “rose up to every occasion.”

I have led a quiet, yet social, life since that terrible tragedy in 1881.  I created a “country estate” from my farm property in Mentor, Ohio and embarked on several building projects.  A “Memorial Library” addition was built onto the back of the farmhouse, complete with a fire-proof vault to hold my husband’s papers from his public career (and more than 1,200 letters shared between us).  I’ve been told that it may inspire others to create presidential libraries one day!

lucretia-portrait

Lucretia Rudolph Garfield in her later years, in a portrait by John Folinsbee.  This portrait hangs in the Garfield home at James A. Garfield National Historic Site in Mentor, Ohio.  (National Park Service)

My children have completed college, married, and now have children of their own.  I am so pleased to say that they have grown up to be distinguished citizens in their own right.  We all gather at the Mentor farm every summer, and I can be found wintering in South Pasadena, California.  I love to travel to New York City for the opera season and to visit my 16 grandchildren at least once a year.

I try to keep well-informed of science, cultural, and political events, both at home and abroad.  I have co-founded a ladies’ literary group (based on one that my husband and I attended in Washington) called the Miscellany Club, where monthly meetings are held in members’ homes and we take turns speaking on subjects related to a year-long topic, like “American History.” I often correspond with my oldest sons about political matters, which can get quite interesting since one is aligned with Woodrow Wilson and the other with Theodore Roosevelt!

lucretiagroup-1

Mrs. Lucretia Garfield (center, seated) surrounded by grandchildren on her Mentor, Ohio property.  (Lake County Historical Society)

My five children have been a continual joy and inspiration to me.  And with the memory of my dear Husband and our little ones who didn’t stay with us very long…I have had a remarkable life.  For does not life grow richer as the years go by?  Even our losses lead us into wider fields and nobler thoughts.

Very respectfully,

Lucretia R. Garfield

 

-Debbie Weinkamer, Lead Volunteer

(This article originally appeared at http://kennethackerman.com/guest-blogger-debbie-weinkamer-on-lucretia-garfield-the-vanishing-first-lady-or-am-i/ on March 30, 2012.)